Connecting with God: “Blessings from the Bully” – 1 Peter 4:12-19

PrintWe have all heard the term “bullying”. The topic of bullying has gained significant ground in the last decade. Children hear about it in school. Social media reacts whenever evidence of it is presented. It seems it is a topic for our times. What we haven’t heard, I suspect, is the term “bullying” is one of the most “changed” words in the English language! Strangely enough, the he word “bully” was first used in the 1530’s and essentially was used in the way we use “sweetheart” today. It could have been applied to either sex in that time, and originated from a Dutch term for “lover”, derived from a German term for “brother or one dear to”.

Obviously over time, the meaning CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY. In the early 17th century it meant “fine fellow”. By the end of that same century it was a pejorative term for a “harasser of the weak” or a “street ruffian”. What demise for a word! Worse yet, by 1710 the term was first used as a verb in English and marked the actions of a man who protected prostitutes from harm by nefarious characters who would have mistreated them. What word do you know that has meant “lover, pounder and pimp”? I cannot think of any words that underwent greater transformation. Today, the term “bullying” refers to a use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. It is set up by the perception of an imbalance of social or physical power, which often distinguishes bullying from other kinds of conflict.

In today’s lesson, we want to look at a type of bullying that Scripture offered to give counsel to believers through the ages. Here is the truth: For most decades of the Christian faith in much of the world, they have found themselves in a minority. As such, they were abused and bullied. That wasn’t true everywhere. In fact, we can also quickly point to times and places where people, in the name of Jesus, acted badly and bullied other populations. Yet, that isn’t the big picture. Bullying and persecuting came into the church early, and was already very much an issue during the times of the Apostles. Peter used an opportunity in his epistle to teach persecuted believers of central Asia Minor. Here is what he wrote to them…

Key Principle: Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Something happens when believers find themselves clean before God. Coming to Christ, they experience a great rush of freedom, and a new intimate relationship with their Creator. One of the byproducts of that, it seems, is they come away with an expectation that others will be excited for them – but that is not always the case at all. Let me say it another way: Some young believers walk back into their old lives expecting people around them to affirm their newfound faith and walk with God, and are apparently shocked when people in their life give them trouble concerning their desires to follow Jesus.

Peter wrote about that sense of trouble that came upon early believers during the Roman period, but looking over the centuries that experience would not be found to be unique to them.

Peter first wrote a command concerning persecution, then the reasoning behind it.

The command was straightforward: Bullied believers must not be surprised or confused at their plight, but rather choose a response of rejoicing. Here is how he wrote it:

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

Surprise seemed to characterize the response to suffering. Why? I suspect that people who began a journey with God expected that journey to somehow insulate them from harm. I also suspect that innocence and naivety led them to believe others would know the changes in them weren’t a vote concerning their neighbors, but an excitement about God’s work in them.

Sue was in her sophomore year in college at the state university. She was an outgoing, happy and party-filled lover of all things pleasurable. He boyfriend introduced her as the “girl that brought the fun with her” and she lived up to the expectation. In her third semester in college, Sue was paired off in a Chemistry class with Annie, a Christian girl with a vibrant faith in Jesus. Annie was a fun person, but her faith dominated her decision making, and Sue and Annie weren’t in the same social circles. They met in Chemistry, and for a while that is the only place they met. Here is the thing: Sue liked Annie. She say in her loyalty and authenticity that made her a friend you could confide in. Annie was a good listener and a compassionate person. By the end of the semester, Sue was attending a Tuesday Bible study with Annie, and Sue gave her heart to Jesus Christ. In the weeks that followed, the “queen of fun” began to make changes in her behavior that affected her boyfriend, her party schedule, and quite literally her sobriety about life in college. What happened to Sue’s popularity? It plummeted as her old friend turned away from her. She didn’t mean for her faith to feel to her friends like a condemnation, but that is how they took the changes in her life. Like a poor man who inherits a windfall of money and raises the ire of his old neighbors, Sue began to experience a harshness in old friends, and it surprised her. She couldn’t figure out why people who used to be such friends would now say such mean things about her just because she found fulfillment in Jesus. Why couldn’t they leave her have what meant something to her? Peter’s words were there to help people like Sue grow through the pain.

You may rightly ask: “Why rejoice at being bullied for my faith?” That is a fair question. I can understand asking believers to TOLERATE abuse, but what kind of person REJOICES at such a thing. Peter offered five insights that made this clearer:

First, in persecution God’s Spirit offers you a unique experience of grace that you will come to cherish.

Some of the command for rejoicing comes from understanding a benefit of it in our lives. What? There is benefit to people mocking me because of my faith? Yes, there is. Look closely as Peter explained:

1 Peter 4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

If you have ever experienced the sweet comfort of God that comes when you lost a dear loved one, you probably have some idea what Peter was making reference to when he remarked that the “Spirit of glory and of God” settles in a unique way on the persecuted. No normal person ever wants to lose someone they love to death. Yet, many who know Jesus have reported that God settled into their home and their life in a tender and fuller way after that experience to gently guide them through it.

Peter said that if trouble and bullying comes because of our belief – not because of our bad behavior or our naïve and zealous presentation of our belief – we should understand that blessing has come to us. Remember, Biblically speaking, blessing is “that which drives me deeper into intimacy with God” and curse is that “which gives me the illusion of self-dependence”. Recognizing the meaning of the terms in their Biblical principles will help us understand the way the Bible presents the truths about such things. Blessing, then, isn’t about good feeling or ease in life. It is about attaining a new level of surrender of heart to God, and a new level of connection and communication with His Spirit in the recesses of my heart.

It starts with my attitude toward those who hurt me. It moves to my attitude about my life in general. I read something interesting this week that should help us keep our attitude right about counting our blessings:

• If you woke up this morning with more health than illness…you are more blessed than the thousands who won’t live past this week.

• If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…your life is more peaceful than 500 million people in the world.

• If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death…you are more blessed than three billion people in our world.

• If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep…you are richer than 75% of this world.

• If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace…you are among the top 8% of this world’s wealthy people.

You may not feel privileged, but much of how we feel is the adoption of our attitudes about life. That is true of lost men and women, and of saved as well. Our attitude about our experience is the window through which we see the world. Smudged, we see the world in a way that is not true, and it plays on our emotions. This is a specific danger in a generation that has been trained to respond to media like it is a good window to the world. Here is the truth: media pundits have a point of view and cameras can easily deceive you. They are pointed in one place, and the power of their imagery can make you believe that an exceptional place is the norm and terrible fortunes are more wide spread than they really are.

Take a look at the police presence outside of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, and you will think Jerusalem is a war zone. You wouldn’t know that three block away people are throwing wedding parties. Two blocks away men sell bread from carts without fear. The camera focuses on one place, and leaves an impression of the whole city.

Peter made the point that in persecution “you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Let’s say it this way: When the world closes in on you because of your faith, God’s presence and power will show itself to you in a deeper way – and that IS blessing. God won’t let you flounder, and He won’t forget about you. He will stand by you in His promise to never leave you. In your pain, you may feel torn apart, but you needn’t be. God has strength beyond yours, and made specifically available to those who are being badly treated.

Second, in true persecution you may be labeled a criminal, but those who know you will know the label is a lie.

One of the things we must learn in the maturing process is where to get the foundations of our identity. Some people think they are what others tell them they are. Some think they are better than they truly are because they have allowed themselves to be deceived. Mature believers learn we are who God says we are – and no other opinion should be more important to us. In persecution, some early believers were imprisoned. They were lumped together with criminals, but they were not criminal. Peter urged the people who followed Jesus with these words:

1 Peter 4:15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;

To maintain the truth that believers who were persecuted were not guilty of true crimes, it became necessary for Peter to remind those believers who WERE criminal not to claim persecution when that wasn’t the reason for the harsh handling by authorities. It is true to say that some who named Christ were guilty of crimes. It was equally true to say that some who followed Jesus were called criminals, when it was actually a persecution against their faith. Peter wanted to keep people from making a persecution plea when they were, in fact, criminals by behavior.

Believers are susceptible to the same temptations as others in the world. In fact, the enemy is pleased to help derail their walk, so they must be MORE careful of temptation, not less. Notice the types of offenses against which we must stand guard on our hearts:

The first is Murder: the term phoneús – a murderer, committing unjustified, intentional homicide. Using Jesus’ definition, the picture is one who hates others, slanders others, and lacks compassion toward others.

Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell. … 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way …

Jesus said that one of the responses we would be tempted to have when we feel in danger is to lash out against those who we perceive to endanger us. That is not the way of a Christ follower.

The second term in 1 Peter 4:15 is Thievery: The term kléptēs denotes a thief who steals by stealth (in secret), rather than in the open with violence. Believers need to be on guard against a sneaky heart and a hunger to have what God has not given them.

The third term used by Peter is Evil doer: The words kakopoiós or “of a malicious disposition” and poiéō, “to make” were combined to mean “someone who makes trouble” (to inflict harm), or seeks an opportunity to injure (damage another). Believers need to be careful about scheming to make trouble. The instinct of the fallen heart can be motivated by the desire to “get even” with an abuser. Revenge isn’t our job. Revenge isn’t Christian.

The final words are troublesome meddler where the complex term allotriepiskopos (al-lot-ree-ep-is’-kop-os) is a “prier into other men’s affairs”. Literally, it is “One who meddles in things alien to his calling or in matters belonging to others; factious.” One commentator said they were: “…those who, with holy but intemperate zeal, meddle with the affairs of the pagan world — whether public or private, civil or sacred — in order to make them conform to the Christian standard. Believers must not try to get the world to believe in their morality without their Christ. The relationship precedes the behavior. Not to be unkind, but trying to make lost men moral is like putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t think lost men are pigs – for they are the wondrous creation of a loving Father – but I do think they need a relationship with God before true inner life changes can be made that matter in eternity.

Before we move on, look at the kind of people we mentioned: murderers, thieves, troublers and busybodies. What kind of churches were they that housed such people as these? Remember, the people receiving the letter were persecuted. When we have been mistreated, some of us will find it easier to excuse sinful responses. People want to be treated fairly. Immature people justify reaction rather than demand godly response. To respond well when badly treated for Jesus’ sake, we must grow up.

Third, in persecution you will have a special opportunity to exalt the name of Jesus.

1 Peter 4:16 but if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Because we are not used to being maligned when we know we have been honest and upright, those who don’t become indignant may be tempted to shrink back into false shame – but that is also a wrong response. When we are persecuted, truly persecuted for the sake of Jesus – we should not be ashamed it happened to us. Others will need to see how we pass through the troubles.

I recall the story of a small eight-year-old boy who lost part of his right arm in a tragic accident at his home. As he recuperated from his surgery he became increasingly withdrawn and depressed. The boy’s father tried to encourage his son on many occasions but was utterly unsuccessful. One day as the boy was lying on his bed in his room, his father announced “Son, the new pastor of our church is here and he would like to meet you.” The boy showed no interest even after the pastor walked into the room. Yet, the boy’s response changed when he looked up and saw that the pastor had also lost his right arm in an accident. The kind pastor said “Son, I know exactly how you are feeling right now!” We need to remember that our ministry to others is enhanced through suffering and hardship.

Suffering can teach us to make our lives more about the needs of others – and in that way we will BE MORE LIKE JESUS. That seems counter intuitive. After all, if I suffer won’t I think more about ME? No, if you consider how that can be a special link you have with understanding Jesus. Put it this way, Jesus suffered to benefit us. What if your suffering and the character that you exhibit from this suffering can be used by God to lead your children to a God honoring life? What if God uses the “new you” that grows from the pain of suffering to reach your neighbor, and they in turn reach a young person whose testimony reaches a nation for Messiah?

Suffering can teach us Jesus’ perspective on people and situations – and in that way SEE MORE LIKE JESUS. If I can experience troubles without surprise and watch for God’s supply of care, others will be encouraged.

Keith Leenhouts in his book, A Father, A Son…and a Three Mile Run tells the story of a father and son’s love. Jerry, the son, was attending a small university. He loved football and during his four years he never missed a practice. In spite of his love for football Jerry couldn’t make the varsity starting team. He just occasionally would get to go in as a substitute. The coach admired Jerry’s loyalty to the team and also marveled at his love for his father. The coach had observed Jerry and his father walking together around the campus on many occasions. But the coach had never met the father or talked with Jerry about him. During Jerry’s senior year and a few nights before the most important game of the season – Jerry knocked at the coach’s door. When the coach opened the door he saw Jerry with tears in his eyes. “Coach, my father just died. Is it all right if I miss practice for a few days and go home?”

The coach said he was very sorry to hear the news and Jerry was free to go home and not hurry back. If he missed the game he would understand.

But on Friday night, the night of the big game, Jerry was back and stood in the coach’s doorway. “Coach, I’m back and I have one request. May I please start the game tomorrow?” The coach tried to tell Jerry the importance of the game, but Jerry was relentless in his request and so the Coach finally consented against his better judgment. The coach had visions of Jerry in the game, fumbling and lousing up plays. The opposing team was favored to win. The coach needed the best players the entire game. He wished he had not consented to let Jerry start the game, but he had promised.

The time for the game approached. Jerry stood at the goal line awaiting the opening kick-off. The coach thought, “that ball probably won’t go to him anyway. His team could run a series of plays using other halfbacks and then take Jerry out of the game. The ball was kicked off and “Oh no” the coach groaned. It floated end over end right into Jerry’s arms. The coach closed his eyes –it would be a sure fumble—but instead of fumbling, as the coach expected, Jerry hugged the ball tightly, dodged three onrushing defenders and raced to middle field before he was finally tacked. The coach had never seen Jerry run with such agility and power. The next play Jerry ran for another twenty yards. Several plays later he carried the ball across the goal line. The favored team was stunned. Who was this kid? He wasn’t even in the scouting reports. Jerry was a real inspiration to his team. At halftime the team was two touchdowns ahead. When the final gun sounded Jerry’s team had won.

In the locker room the players were ecstatic. The coach went to Jerry only to find him sitting quietly with his head in his hands. “Son, what happened out there? You played better than I have ever seen you play. What happened to you? Jerry looked up at the coach and said softly, “You see, coach, my father died but before that he was blind. This is the first game he ever saw me play.” When believers recognize Who is watching them respond, they live differently.

Fourth, in persecution those not truly following Jesus will fall away and the church will find internal rest from the distress of impurity.

There is a strange “side benefit” to persecution:

1 Peter 4:17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it] [begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?

Persecution will drive away those who joined to the work for self-benefit. As they depart and reject Christ, there will be grief in their loss, followed by peace as the body heals from foreign objects that constantly pulled against health.

How many terrible things have been done by people who claimed Christ yet did not truly know Him? How many abuses have been perpetrated by “men of the cloth” who, if we sat with them and examined what they believed and taught, we would recognize they did not know Christ at all! Persecution may cause some to flee the faith, but that isn’t all bad. Like the chaff, some were growing amid the wheat and eventually showed themselves.

It isn’t easy to respond to harsh people rightly when we are honest and mature in our faith. How much harder will it be when people who are being dishonest but appear to be following (wheat and chaff) are exposed? Without the Spirit and the Savior within to comfort them – it will be obvious they will struggle deeply to find a place and peace.

Fifth, in persecution we have an opportunity to express openly our trust that God will make right what is unjust on earth, and to replace the world’s rage with His’ grace.

Remember this as you move through your week: “Rage powers the internet. Grace empowers the believer.”

Peter wrote: 1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

If you get caught up in rage, you will miss the benefits of the bullying lessons. Suffering can help us focus on a God honoring life and kick out sinful habits. It will make life take on a more serious dimension, and cause me to think carefully about life and its consequences. It helps me focus on the reality of my frail life and its purpose, so it helps me stop wasting my life!

Zechariah 13:9 “They will come through the fire…they will call on my name and I will answer them and I will say, “they are my people” and they will say, “the Lord is my God.” If your trials don’t bring you to the point of learning to trust God, then you aren’t learning the lesson God has in mind when he sent that trouble to you.

Suffering can teach us to learn the power of choice in our perspective. We have to choose how we feel about what is happening to us, and that takes courage, but brings freedom. I can choose to live my life with a positive perspective and happy outlook, or hate my life and fight with the things that have entered that I cannot control.

Imagine the CNN anchor interviewing Noah. “Noah, wasn’t it messy on board that ship?” Noah answers: Sure it was messy, but it was still the best ship floating!” Having a right heart attitude is the first step toward being a truly thankful person. Do I really see every good and perfect gift as coming from God and do I express this gratitude by the attitude I try to maintain when things aren’t going so well?

Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Oh, how suffering can teach us to view our lives as an opportunity to live in a performance that praises our Savior and Lord (4:16). If God counts us worthy to suffer, we need not be embarrassed, but celebrate as a badge of honor that God is faithful and fully understanding in our lives. He knows what is best!

In the Dachau concentration camp in Germany was an old man who just liked to talk to the tourists. His name was Christian Reiger and he was a former prisoner. He had been thrown into prison because he was a member of the German Confessing Church which opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime. During that terrible time in history, he often saw family members and people from his congregation die. He saw the pain they suffered and he kept asking “Why? Why?”

At the beginning of his incarceration in the concentration camp, he was able to receive some letters, although they had always been read and censured by the staff at the camp. One of the letters he received was from his wife. At the end of it was a P.S. and it simply said, “read Acts 4:26,27.” The same day, soon after receiving the letter, he was called in to be interrogated. He was frightened because he had seen what happened to others. Some did not return. Others were beaten severely. As he waited before going in to be interrogated by the Gestapo, one of the other prisoners walked by and handed him a little matchbox. He put it in his pocket. Reiger went in to be interrogated, but by the grace of God, he wasn’t harmed. They wanted him to inform on members of his church who were opposing the Nazi regime. Earlier, Reiger had been turned over to the Nazis by the church organist. After interrogation, Reiger went back to the barracks. He remembered the box. He took it out to get a match, but the matchbox had no matches…only a little piece of paper–which said, “Acts 4:26-29.” The same message–twice in one day! He said that the Spirit of God came in and began to transform his life. No longer was he asking the WHYs of life, because he realized the Person who was the WHO of life–and that person had control of his life!

Acts 4:26-29 “The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence.”

Let me close this message reminding you that God may choose to calm the storm when you ask, but that isn’t His only option. He does not always calm the storm, but sometimes calms His child in the midst of the storm to come up close to them. Rather than remove the heat from Israel in the desert, He guided them through it and met them in it. Rather than deliver the three from the fiery furnace in Babylon, He dropped in for a God chat in the furnace. Intimacy may be a real benefit to enduring trouble and not pressing for immediate deliverance…